Assad's Lionesses: the female last line in the battle for Syria - Middle East - World - The Independent

Assad's Lionesses: the female last line in the battle for Syria

New women recruits will free up soldiers to fight rebels and give regime  a psychological boost

Beirut

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has recruited a brigade of women to man checkpoints and carry out security  operations as he attempts to free up soldiers in his beleaguered army to fight the rebels.

Dressed in fatigues and armed with Kalashnikov assault rifles, the female recruits – the “Lionesses for National Defence” – are part of a new paramilitary force. They have already been deployed in Homs, where they have been spotted guarding areas where residents still largely support the regime. Videos from both opposition and pro-government sites purport to show members of the all-female unit in action.

The women are part of the recently formed National Defence Force (NDF), which appears to be a key component of the Syrian state’s counter insurgency strategy. The regime is struggling to gain the upper hand in the street battles that have devastated large areas of the country’s cities and killed thousands of its soldiers. Rebels are holed up in several neighbourhoods of Homs and the capital’s southern suburbs.

Abu Rami, a spokesman for the Syrian Revolution General Commission in Homs, first saw the female recruits about five days ago at Tadmour Circle on the outskirts of an Alawite area, before another activist returned to film them. The shaky video, which appears to have been filmed secretly, shows around half a dozen armed women guarding a major intersection.

“I was very surprised, it’s the first time we have seen this,” he said. “I think it’s an excuse to make the FSA [Free Syrian Army] kill women and then show the world as propaganda, but anyone with a weapon is a legitimate target.”

He said the women were also seen in the Wadi al-Dahab area, where some 500 recruits are reported to be receiving training at a military base.

In scenes reminiscent of parades by former Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi’s female bodyguards, a video uploaded on to a pro-regime YouTube channel at the beginning of the month shows about a hundred women marching in front of a portrait of the president. The NDF, which includes male recruits, is expected to have 10,000 members.

Waleed al-Fares, a Homs-based  activist, described the new group as “just the Shabiha with a different name”, referring to the notorious, largely Alawite pro-Assad militias.

The London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights claims  it will also include an elite fighting force trained by Iran. The Islamic Republic, a staunch ally of Damascus, has admitted its Quds Force is helping the Syrian regime in an advisory role.

An NDF Facebook page lists its operations – a post praises its men for supporting the army in “cleansing” the Damascus suburb of Daraya, where it is trying to destroy rebel hideouts. But as well as freeing up the army for military operations, the force gives the regime a psychological boost.

“Assad needs people to be militants at this point,” said Emile Hokayem, a Syria expert at the International Institute for Strategic Studies. “It’s not just a matter of operations on the ground and needing more bodies – he also needs society and his community to be mobilised, to keep up morale.”

But as the conflict becomes increasingly multifaceted, some doubt a negotiated settlement can be reached. Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal said the notion was “unimaginable”.

Girl power: The women of war

Though war may traditionally be the preserve of men, history has thrown up its fair share of female warriors, from Boudica, the Celtic queen who led an uprising against the Roman Empire, to Joan of Arc, burnt at the stake at age 19 after leading France to several victories in the Hundred Years’ War.

In World War One, the Soviet Union created the “Women’s Battalion of Death”, made up of around 2,000 recruits who fought the June Offensive against Germany in 1917. Then there was Colonel Gaddafi’s Amazonian Guard – hand-picked bodyguards, all heavily made up and sworn virgins.

Syria’s Lionesses are not currently involved in combat, but the Levant has seen both Christian and Muslim women fighting on the frontline in Lebanon’s 15-year civil war.

News
Paper trail: the wedding photograph found in the rubble after 9/11 – it took Elizabeth Keefe 13 years to find the people in it
newsWho are the people in this photo? It took Elizabeth Stringer Keefe 13 years to find out
Arts and Entertainment
Evil eye: Douglas Adams in 'mad genius' pose
booksNew biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Sport
FootballFull debuts don't come much more stylish than those on show here
News
i100
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Life and Style
Kim Kardashian drawn backlash over her sexy swimsuit selfie, called 'disgusting' and 'nasty'
fashionCritics say magazine only pays attention to fashion trends among rich, white women
Arts and Entertainment
TVShows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Arts and Entertainment
Hit the roof: hot-tub cinema east London
architectureFrom pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
Travel
travel
News
The ecological reconstruction of Ikrandraco avatar is shown in this illustration courtesy of Chuang Zhao. Scientists on September 11, 2014 announced the discovery of fossils in China of a type of flying reptile called a pterosaur that lived 120 millions years ago and so closely resembled those creatures from the 2009 film, Avatar that they named it after them.
SCIENCE
Life and Style
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Matisse: The Cut-Outs exhibition attracted 562,000 visitors to the Tate Modern from April to September
art
Life and Style
Models walk the runway at the Tom Ford show during London Fashion Week Spring Summer 2015
fashionLondon Fashion Week 2014
News
Kenny G
news
News
peopleThe black actress has claimed police mistook her for a prostitute when she kissed her white husband
Life and Style
techIndian model comes with cricket scores baked in
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Energy Markets Analyst

£400000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: Job Title: Energy Markets An...

Junior Web Analyst – West Sussex – Up to £35k DOE

£30000 - £35000 Per Annum Plus excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions...

Nursery Manager

£22000 - £23000 per annum: Randstad Education Bristol: We are currently recrui...

Web Analyst – Permanent – Up to £40k - London

£35000 - £40000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: We are currently r...

Day In a Page

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week